I have never been to New York City, so I can not refute any of the criticisms I’ve read about New York, I Love You, a collection of short films featuring an enormous cast, all tied together by the backdrop of New York City and the theme of love, that claim that claim that the movie fails to capture the spirit and charm of the city. However, I have been in love. I’ve been through the five boroughs of first love, unrequited love, sacrificial love, complicated love, and that ghetto called a broken heart. So I feel qualified to offer my opinion about he film’s overall theme. On that level, I found New York, I Love You, a movie inspired by the similarly produced film about Paris, Paris, je t’aime, to be quite enjoyable and, for the most part, very successful.
As this DVD is being released just prior to Valentine’s Day (both the holiday and the upcoming, huge ensemble film) and it is a nice date movie that should leave plenty to discussion with you and your companion. What I enjoyed best about the film was the way each short story flowed into the next one. In general, I enjoy films like New York, I Love You, ones that compile a series of short films to attain an overall message. The format allows veteran directors the chance to experiment, have some fun, and to challenge themselves to make a 7-10 minute story that is compelling to watch. In addition, without the burden of an entire film resting on their shoulders, these filmmakers are sometimes working much looser than they’re accustomed to working. A big anthology film like this one also gives novice filmmakers the opportunity to get their feet wet without the harsh critical eye that befalls so many first features.
Is every one of these short films perfect? Nope. And that’s okay, because the next one is right around the corner. However, all of them have some outstanding quality that makes them worth viewing. I thoroughly enjoyed the first segment, directed by Jiang Wen and featuring Andy Garcia, Rachel Bilson and Hayden Christensen. I have never really enjoyed Christensen in any of his major works (except, perhaps, Shattered Glass) but in this one he is full of pop and doesn’t seem to be posturing, or “acting,” as Master Thespian would proclaim.
Brett Ratner’s entry, starring Anton Yelchin and Olivia Thirlby has the rush of adolescence and that sinking feeling of getting in over your head. A recently dumped Yelchin takes a blind date to his prom and it turns out she’s in a wheelchair. He doesn’t balk and gets a special reward at the end. Ratner’s films have never inspired me, yet this short is fun and paced so nicely that I wished it would have continued longer. Mira Nair’s piece, starring Natalie Portman and Irrfan Khan, is a little slow, but Khan is such an interesting presence on screen that I could stop watching.
My favorite segment starred Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn and is one of two shorts directed by Yvan Attal. These consummate actors portray two people (strangers?) who step outside a restaurant to have a smoke. Penn’s character delivers a very confessional monologue about her husband while Cooper, unsure how to respond, stands and absorbs her words. It’s excellent.
The most far reaching short is from a script written by the late Anthony Minghella and directed by Shekhar Kapur. The stunning Julie Christie stars as a woman who checks into a hotel and spends some time with a disabled Russian bell boy portrayed by Shia LaBeouf. The two actors work wonderfully together and the short serves as a reminder that LaBeouf really is one of the finest of his generation (helping me forget Transformers; making me look forward to Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) and that Ms. Christie is still one of the silver screen’s greatest actresses.
I was impressed by Natalie Portman’s directorial contribution (about a supposed “manny”) and was moved by the performances of Elli Wallach and Cloris Leachman as an old married couple walking to the boardwalk on their anniversary in one of the final shorts, directed by Joshua Marston.
Special mention of New York, I Love You needs to be made about the way each short film seamlessly flowed into the other. This is a credit to the many editors who worked on the project, including Affonso Goncalves, who edited the transitions from segment to segment.
The DVD release includes two never before seen shorts that were cut from the finished film. One was written and directed by Scarlett Johansson. Her short is a little too much like a student film. Shot in black in white, I can understand why it was cut as it would have disrupted the overall flow of the movie. Bonus featured also include short statements by several of the directors (speaking into the camera) explaining their enthusiasm for the project and the reasoning behind their artistic choices.